Mini Lamb Koftas with Pomegranate Wine Sauce is a delicious appetizer inspired by one of the Middle East’s favorite meatballs!
what are koftas?
Koftas are ground and spiced lamb, shaped into balls or ovals, skewered and then grilled. They are common all over the Middle East, but usually you see them full sized. I thought it would be fun to do a mini version, just perfect for toothpicks and cocktails.
what you’ll need for kofta
Just one pound of lamb makes an army of little kofta. You can make and shape them ahead and cook just before you need them if you want.
- ground lamb
- onion and shallot and garlic
- spices: cumin, coriander, turmeric, smoked paprika, cinnamon, cayenne
- fresh herbs: coriander and mint
- wheat germ
- salt and pepper
- oil for frying
the pomegranate sauce
- red wine
- pomegranate juice
the pomegranate wine sauce is the star of the show
They cook up really quickly in a skillet so they’re great for entertaining. But I have to be honest, the pomegranate sauce has to get equal billing. It all started when my daughter and I stopped for lunch on our way home from a round of holiday returns. It was the same old story, we return a bunch of stuff I bought for her, and she finds a few things that she actually likes, things that I wouldn’t have picked out for her in a million years. It’s become a warm and fuzzy holiday tradition.
We chose a Middle Eastern restaurant in a mini mall. (In LA, some of the best ethnic restaurants are in mini malls.) We ordered Moroccan spiced lamb cigars and they came on top of the most amazing sauce we’ve ever had. It was simply called red wine sauce. It was thick, blood red, sweet/tart, and heavily (heavily) spiced with cinnamon. I asked about it but all they would tell me was that it was made with red wine. I could taste pomegranate as well as the cinnamon, and I was pretty sure I could recreate it.
I tried once and it wasn’t quite right. The second time I hit it right on. There was a lot of oohing and ahhing in the kitchen as we tasted it. It’s incredible. Thick, syrupy, winey, sweet tart, with the surprise spicy heat of cinnamon. I’m pretty sure you’ve never tasted anything like it. There’s only one problem— in order to create this incredible sauce you need to reduce 2 cups of red wine and 2 cups of pomegranate juice down to just about 1/2 cup of syrup. Kind of a splurge. But worth it. And a little goes a long way. And anyway, we are celebrating the fact that it’s Friday, aren’t we?
When you bite into the kofta the lamb is moist and tinted a golden yellow from all the spices. There is a little kick of heat at the back of your mouth. The flavors are so bright and vivid in this appetizer, I hope you give it a try. The koftas are adapted from Rachel Allen, but the sauce is all mine!
more Middle Eastern appetizers
- Instant Pot Hummus
- Spiced Lamb Meatballs with Hummus
- The Best Falafel Recipe
- Middle Eastern ‘Nachos’
- Muhammara (roasted red pepper & walnut dip)
- Warm Hummus with Mushrooms
Mini Lamb Koftas with Pomegranate Wine Sauce
For the koftas
- 1 egg
- 1 medium onion, very finely minced
- 1 shallot, very finely minced
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed and minced
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- 1 tsp ground turmeric
- 1 tsp hot smoked paprika
- 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp ground cayenne pepper
- 2 Tbsp minced fresh coriander, (cilantro)
- 2 Tbsp minced fresh mint
- 1 lb lean ground lamb
- salt and freshly ground black pepper , to taste
- 1/2 cup wheat germ
- 2 Tbsp olive oil, for frying
For the pomegranate wine sauce
- 2 cups red wine
- 2 cups pomegranate juice
- 1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
For the koftas
- In a mixing bowl, whisk the egg. Mix in everything else, except the olive oil. Break apart the lamb into chunks as you add it to help evenly distribute it without over mixing. Although you want to get all the ingredients well combined, over working the meat will toughen your koftas. If your mixture is very wet, add a little more wheat germ.
- Using a tablespoon or small scoop, take a small portion of meat and roll it in your hands, first into a round ball to firm it up, and then back and forth to elongate it into an oval shape.
- Set the kofta on a tray and place in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes. This will firm them up further.
- Heat the olive oil in a large skillet and brown the kofta on both sides. Continue cooking until they are cooked through and an instant read thermometer reads 160. This will only take a few minutes.
- Skewer each kofta with a long cocktail toothpick and serve with a small amount of the pomegranate sauce.
For the pomegranate wine sauce
- Bring the wine and juice to a boil in a saucepan. Continue boiling, uncovered, until the sauce is reduced and thickened, almost 45 minutes. Whisk in the cinnamon towards the end of the cooking. You should be left with about 1/2 cup of ambrosia! Don't waste a drop!
Questions and Reviews
For the pomegranate wine sauce, can I just boil pomegranate seeds with the wine and strain it after it has been reduced? Thanks!
I haven’t tried that Mia, so I’m not sure how it would work, sorry.
One more question! Do I use fresh pomegranate juice (process and drain the seeds) or store bought? I see all the recipes for juice include the addition of water and sugar…
I use the ready made juice.
Does the papirika make these spicy. What would you recommend I use instead of hot spices.
You can substitute regular sweet paprika Jeanie.
This looks SO good and want to make this soon! I wanted to make sure your instruction is correct, to BOIL the wine and pomegranate juice for about 45 minutes, not simmer, right? Thanks for sharing your recipes!! Happy New Year!
Somewhere in between, just to let it reduce drastically. Happy New Year to you too!
Thanks so much, Sue!! 🙂
If I don’t have any wheat germ and don’t really use it often enough to buy it, what would you recommend as a substitute?
You could substitute any kind of bread crumb, Maddie.
Just made this and it turned out great! I used beef but I am sure lamb would be great too. I made a half batch of the sauce (limited by the amount of leftover red wine I had) and it still worked perfectly in the smaller quantity. This is one of the best things I’ve cooked!
I’m so glad to hear that Hannah! I can still taste that wine sauce…
Absolutely, I’d bake them at 350F for, I don’t know, maybe 10 to 15 minutes? Good luck!
Will this be good with venison instead of the lamb? I still have half a buck in my deep freeze so I can’t justify buying meat right now… and red wine goes well with venison. What do you think?
I can’t say, I’ve never tried venison, but I bet it would be fine.
This looks fantastic. I will try it soon but have to substitute with ground beef .
Where did they all go? I love the lamb appetizer idea and the sauce sounds thick with flavor. You are a magician when it comes to recreating recipes. Very nice indeed! (P.S. I just let me daughter tell me what she wants – no returns ha ha)